Call for action to release prisoners

Every person incarcerated in jails, prisons and immigration detention centers, on the county, state and federal level in every part of the country, is at risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19.

The unsanitary, inhumane conditions can lead to massive rates of illness among high-risk individuals, which could have fatal consequences at an unimaginable scale. This risk will also affect those working in these locations, their families and their communities. 

Free All Prisoners, Street Art, Vienna, Austria. Photo: x1klima, used under a Creative Commons License.

Numerous organizations are making a call to action to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on people behind bars. We can respond to these calls despite imposed and self-imposed isolation and quarantine.

Calls to Action:   

The Justice Collaborative has letters you can send demanding the release of prisoners from their overcrowded facilities. These letters can be sent to every level of government, from federal to local. 

This summary of demands is adapted from Prison Radio:

  • Immediately bring all medically fragile and prisoners over sixty home.
  • Release everyone who has a release date in 2020 and 2021. 
  • Release all people in federal immigration detention.
  • Expedite all parole eligible cases. 
  • Eliminate bail. Let every single pre-trial detainee go.  
  • Eliminate all unnecessary parole meetings.
  • Eliminate parole revocations for technical violations.
  • Lift all fees for calling family members.
  • Eliminate medical co-pays in prison.
  • Reduce the local and state prison population by any and all, ordinary or extraordinary means.
  • Ensure single cells and sufficient medical beds. 
  • Reduce admissions by eliminating biased police, prosecutorial, immigration and judicial practices.

Below is a short list of local area campaigns and resources we’re aware of:

Pennsylvania:  Join the Abolitionist Law Center to get Allegheny Jail shut down.

California: Call Governor Newsom’s office to demand emergency decarceration!

New Jersey: Drive to Save Lives, Hudson Correctional Center.

New York:  Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP).

No matter where you live, find your local decarcerate campaign, from Hawaii to Tennessee. 

Thanks to direct pressure, counties across the country have released people from city jails in Los Angeles, New York, Cuyahoga, Ohio, Berkeley/Oakland, CA, Santa Clara, CA and Chicago. More must and can be done. Every day that passes in an overcrowded prison the risks presented by COVID-19 rise. 

Author Bio:

Lori Berenson is a former political prisoner.